10 Things I Wish I Knew about Money in My 20s

millennials

For all you 20-somethings out there, know this: We 30-somethings, we get it. We get what it’s like to be a 20-something struggling to find your way and make ends meet financially. We get that your baby-boomer parents don’t always seem to understand the social and financial pressures 20-somethings face nowadays. We get that times have changed, and that financial advice from folks 30 years your senior – folks who themselves grew up in a dramatically different era – doesn’t always seem relevant. We get what it’s like to be you because we so recently were you. In many ways, we still are you.

That said, while the gap in years between your 20s and your 30s isn’t all that large, the life changes that often occur in that time period tend to be dramatic. And whether it’s marriage, children, or the fact that some of us are now closer to 50 than we are to 20, most 30-somethings, myself included, suddenly find themselves looking back at a long list of financial moves we’re either glad we made or wish we made when we were in our 20s.

So, without further ado, here are 10 pieces of financial advice I wish I had known in my 20s.

1. Live at home for as long as you can.

If the offer to live at home is on the table, then consider yourself lucky and take it. Even if only for a year or two, the savings are significant. I know living with your parents might not seem hip, but take it from a 30-something, there’s nothing hip about paying thousands of dollars in rent unnecessarily. If you do live at home, be mature about it. Help out around the house when and where you can, and don’t be surprised or offended if you’re asked to chip in financially.

2. Pursue a postgraduate degree only if you’re sure you’ll need it and use it.

The world is littered with 30-somethings who piled on additional student loan debt to pursue an expensive postgraduate degree they’ve never put to use. Not knowing what you want to do is fine. Paying for graduate school on account of it is not.

3. Don’t make money-driven career decisions … yet.

Now, I’m not saying money shouldn’t be a consideration when weighing job offers and career paths. But I am saying that for a 20-something, it shouldn’t be the only consideration. There will come a day when, out of necessity, financial considerations guide your career decisions. Your 20s shouldn’t be that time. Instead, use your 20s to explore, learn, and find a career you find fulfilling and, hopefully, enjoyable.

4. Keep credit card debt out of your life.

By the time your 30s roll around, you will regret every penny you spent paying interest on a credit card. Use your credit cards to build your credit history and earn rewards, but be sure to pay them off in full every month.

5. A 401(k) match is your best friend.

Regardless of what decade of life you’re in, free money is free money, and it’s never to be passed up. If you’re lucky enough to work for a company that offers a 401(k) match, then be sure to sign up and start contributing from day one.

6. A Roth IRA is your second best friend.

One of the best ways for 20-somethings to put themselves in a great financial position come their 30s is to start investing in a Roth IRA as soon as possible. If you’re not familiar with a Roth IRA, there are many great resources available to help you learn. But it really is pretty simple. You contribute after-tax money, and your investments grow tax free and cannot be taxed as ordinary income if withdrawn during retirement.

7. Automate everything.

One of the major advantages you have as a 20-something is your comfort and familiarity with modern online tools and technology, a growing segment of which is being built specifically to help you get a head start financially. Perhaps the best thing modern technology does is help you automate everything. Automation is the easy button for managing your finances as a 20-something. So, whether you’re talking about credit card payments, bill paying, 401(k) contributions, investments in your Roth IRA, or anything in between, automate it and know it’s done.

8. Skip the wedding of the century.

Yes, I know, easy for us to say. We 30-somethings all spent a fortune having grand weddings. But that’s exactly the point. We spent a fortune. And trust us, your wedding day will fly by, and you won’t remember every last detail about place settings and flower arrangements. What you will remember is how much you spent on it. There’s no limit to the good use to which 30-somethings could put all that money spent (or should I say, blown) in one day.

9. Spend on experiences, not things.

As we 30-somethings can attest, you’ll never look back and regret the things you didn’t buy (they go out of style fast anyway), but you will regret the experiences you never had. Which is why it’s no surprise so many millennials prefer to spend money on memorable experiences, like traveling the world, over things, like the hottest smartwatch. 

10. Understand that time is on your side now, but it won’t be forever.

The biggest financial advantage you have as a 20-something is also the most fleeting – time. Hard as it may be to believe now, your 30s aren’t that far off. Whether it’s planning, saving, or investing, the sooner you start, the better off you’ll be. 

If there’s one thing you take away from this long list of advice, make it that last point. There are few absolute truths in the world of finance, but in all aspects of money management, if you get started as a 20-something, you’ll be glad you did once you’re a 30-something. Trust us on that one.

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